Did not meet expectations

paella

One of the regular stalls at the weekly Temple Quay meeting, but also the Wednesday street food market on Wine Street usually has a really large queue, so I often avoid it, due to time constraints. It usually serves beef chilli, stroganoff and paella. I have no idea of the stall name, as there isn’t one on the stall.

Having a little more time and quite liking the idea of the paella, I decided to join the queue. It did move quite quickly as the staff were quick and efficient at serving.

The paella was cooked on a large paella dish and contained chorizo, chicken, mussels, prawns and squid and was £6.00 a serving. The portion was provide in a plastic takeaway container and was given a garnish of fresh coriander and lemon.

I had quite high expectations about this dish, but alas I was to be somewhat disappointed.

The yellow of the dish came from turmeric, rather than the much more expensive saffron. I wasn’t too surprised by this, as this happens quite often. Even so I did like the flavour of the dish and felt it was very tasty. The dish though, I felt lacked enough of the core ingredients. It had one piece of chicken, two small prawns, a few pieces of squid, but plenty of mussels!

My main disappointment as a result is about value for money, was the dish worth the money I paid for it. I didn’t think it was worth the price and I don’t think I would try the dish or the stall again.

Time for a new pan

paella

I do quite like cooking paella, and though I’ve not talked about it for a while on the blog, it has made regular appearances on the dining table. One thing I have been thinking about for a while was buying a paella pan to cook it in. I have been using a regular frying pan, but the idea behind using a special paella pan, was to ensure a more authentic dish. This would be achieved by having a broader pan, the resulting paella would be shallower than using the regular frying pan. It would also ensure that I didn’t need to stir the paella, which I have been told now is something you don’t do with paella. So when I was out shopping in Bristol recently I treated myself to a new 40cm paella pan.

For my most recent paella and using the new pan for the first time, I took some diced onion, pepper, mushrooms and courgette. In addition I also threw in some diced chorizo to the pan. After heating a splash of olive oil in the pan, I fried the vegetables and chorizo until they were soft.

I use a variety of methods when adding flavour, from making my own seasoning mix using saffron and paprika, to using shop bought seasoning mixes or pastes. For this paella I used the Marks & Spencer’s paella paste, this contains saffron, but also gives the paella a rich fruity flavour. The paste was added to the pan and mixed with the cooked vegetables.

I then added the paella rice. It makes sense to use the right kind of rice when cooking paella, to ensure you get the right texture. This was coated with the rest of the ingredients and then I added some white wine, before adding the stock to cover all the ingredients.

This was then left to cook over a simmering heat for 30-40 minutes, and I didn’t stir. Though after 25 minutes I did add a little more stock to the pan.

In separate pans I cooked the chorizo and the squid. The chorizo I used was the cooking chorizo, sliced into 4-5mm slices. This was cooked off in a medium pan with a little olive oil. They certainly sweat oil out and this combined with the paprika can stain, so be careful. For this paella I used regular squid, this was scored with a sharp knife before been cooked just before serving in a hot frying pan.

The dish was then constructed, the cooked squid and chorizo was placed on top with chunks of lemon, then served.

Delicious, and went down well.

A Wonderful Staff BBQ

Spit Roasted Lamb

The catering students and staff at Gloucestershire College did an outstanding event last week. Every year the college staff get together in an annual barbecue. Now for a lot of people a big event like this means well done burgers, cheap sausages and if you’re lucky a chicken drumstick, still raw in the middle…

Well this staff event was totally different. There were three food stands. The first wasn’t really a barbecue, but was paella. This was a really well cooked paella with huge kings prawns. This was really nice and very tasty, even if it was a but messy shelling the prawns. There was a vegetarian alternative for those that didn’t want to eat fish. I should say (for regular readers of the blog) that it appeared they had stirred their paella…

The barbecue stand had a nice choice of vegetarian kebabs, satay chicken and barbecued pork ribs. The ribs were perfect, the meat fell off the bone and was beautifully tender. So good you could use a knife and fork, so need to get sticky fingers. I didn’t try the chicken as when I arrived at the stand they had run out and were cooking a new batch. The vegetarian kebab was perfectly cooked and the halloumi cheese that was on there alongside the vegetables was delicious.

My favourite stand though was the Moroccan lamb wrap. They had spit roasted a whole lamb and this was served in a wrap with houmous, yoghurt, sliced courgette and chilli. Absolutely delicious. For those that didn’t eat lamb there was a really nice looking butternut squash alternative.

This was outstanding high quality food for a superb event. It was an extra special event this year as our Principal is retiring.

Don’t you dare stir…

Well I have been well and truly told by lots of people never to stir my paella again.

Claire is currently living in Spain.

Fernando is a Lecturer in Spanish at the Open University.


So that means I am very clear now, I don’t stir the paella.

Paella, have it your way

In my most recent blog post on cooking paella I talked about using a different method that I had seen on the television. I did manage to try it out and, yes it did work exactly as planned.

I cooked the vegetables first and then added the rice and the stock, stirred once and then left it.

I was concerned about how it would turn out and was so, oh so tempted to give it a stir now and again… but I didn’t.

So what of the result?

Well the paella was a lot dryer than my usual recipe and I did feel it lacked some flavour compared to previous versions I had cooked. I am guessing though it was more “authentic” and how a paella should be. One of these days I will need to get to Spain and have a proper paella to compare.

Going to try something different…

Simon Hopkinson Cooks Paella

So there I was watching Simon Hopkinson Cooks on More4 and he was cooking paella. The way in which he cooked his dish is different from the way in which I have cooked mine What he did was cook the core ingredients first in the paella pan, then add the fish stock before finally adding the rice. He gave the rice a single stir before leaving it.

I knew that you should try avoiding stirring, but once and then leave it wasn’t something I had done before. Unlike a risotto where you want to break down the starch to make a creamy sauce, you want the rice in a paella to remain whole, hence avoiding stirring. Similarly I added stock as I was cooking the rice, rather than all at once.

I don’t like the way he did the mussels, but that’s not a crucial part of the recipe. He placed them in the dish pointed upwards and then finished the paella in the oven. I can see the benefits of finishing it off in the oven, but not so sure about the mussels.

When he finished his paella he dressed it with a dressing of olive oil, parsley and garlic. I like the idea of the dressing and will certainly try that on my paella.

So the next time I cook paella I am going to change from my usual method and try something different.

Paella Time

Paella

One of the reasons I write this blog is to remind me of places I have eaten and dishes I have cooked. One thing I have noted is how much I cook paella, so much so that I took a break from cooking it. I have made it recently, to go with a seafood platter, we liked it so much that I cooked almost the same meal again!

The key I have found with a decent paella is good rice and a decent stock. I have found though that the paella seasoning from Tesco is a good compromise if you don’t have any saffron.

In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil. I really keep thinking I should really invest in a proper large paella pan. It’s okay using my current frying pan, but I think it ‘s a little too deep. Using a larger shallower paella pan would make for a more authentic paella and get it cooked just right. Into the hot pan I added some cubed pancetta to which after it cooked, I added some vegetables. This time I did extra vegetables, so I took some diced onion, pepper, courgette, mushrooms and aubergine. This I cooked in the pan until it had softened. I then added the paella rice. I also added the paella seasoning mix to the pan, this contains saffron, as well as some dried tomato, onion and spices. It adds a depth of flavour and that authentic yellow colour. If you want a deeper yellow you need to add more saffron. This was all mixed with the oil, pancetta and vegetables.

I boosted the heat up and added a large splash of white wine. I then added stock to the pan so it covered the rice. As the dish cooked I added more stock.

I did stir now and again, but not too much. With a risotto you want to stir a lot to break down the rice a bit and create a creamy sauce. With paella you want to avoid that, but also get the paella to stick slightly to the bottom of the pan.

Just before serving I added some lemon segments and some griddled seafood. I am sure that some would say I should cook the squid and prawns in the paella, however I have found that they can overcook, becoming tasteless and rubbery. I now cook the squid and prawns separately, using a griddle normally and then place on top of the paella. If I am using chorizo I will do something similar.

I was very pleased with the end result and it was liked by everyone at the table.

Seafood Platter

For New Year’s Eve we decided to have a fish and seafood platter. It was an opportunity to cook and eat some great food. However one problem, as you may recall New Year’s Eve is not only part of Christmas, it’s also a Monday. As a result it was virtually impossible to find any fresh fish or seafood. Generally the fishing fleets don’t go out at weekends and I suspect that they certainly wouldn’t go out over a weekend during the festive season. As a result we went with frozen seafood, not my first choice, but with what we wanted it was better than nothing.

We got some frozen king prawns, scallops and squid from Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range. One of the key things to do when using frozen seafood is to defrost and defrost safely. If you cook frozen seafood from frozen, generally what happens is that you overcook it and it becomes very rubbery. You need to take care when defrosting to avoid food poisoning. The best way to defost is in the fridge, but this takes time. If you do defrost at room temperature, make sure you move the seafood to the fridge once it has defrosted.

The prawns I cooked on my griddle, whilst the scallops were cooked very quickly on a hot flat frying pan, as were the squid rings.

scallops, prawns and squid rings

The scallops were perfect and I was really pleased with how I cooked them. They were browned on each side, but were only just done on the inside. As a result they were melt in the mouth tender, and full of flavour. The prawns were very good, and served with some lemon were delicious. I was less impressed with the squid rings. In the past when I have cooked squid, I have bought frozen whole squid from Tesco and cut it into pieces of squid. I much prefer using this way of preparing squid, usually scoring one side to ensure even cooking and browing of the edges. The squid from Sainsbury’s comes ready sliced into rings. It cooked fine, but it lacked the depth of flavour I have had in the past with squid from Tesco. Why didn’t I get my squid from Tesco, well they’ve seemed to have stopped selling it.

Alongside this plate of seafood I also grilled some giant tiger prawns in their shells. These were placed under a really hot grill, after they were fully defrosted and brushed with some olive oil. The main reason for these prawns is twofold, one is the visual impact, secondly was flavour. They were delicious, though of course were quite messy to peel.

Taste the Difference Whole Giant King Tiger Prawns

We also had some dressed crab, these were small crab shells filled with a crab pate and white crab meat. They looked really nice, but lacked the depth of flavour I would liked to have. This was served with some fresh crusty bread.

Dressed Crab


Another successful dish was some clams. I got a pack of frozen Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company which I mananged to buy at Waitrose.

Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company

Again the key was to ensue they were properly defrosted before cooking, well they’re cooked already, all they really needed was heating up. I did this in a pan with some freshly chopped garlic and parsley. I thought they were delicious and very good value at £3.29. I think they would also work with linguine if wanted pasta and seafood.

We also cooked some salmon, this was roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

Overall this was a delicious meal, we served it with some fresh salad and I also made a paella.

La Tasca, no hay amor más

Though my plan to celebrate my anniversary with dinner at the Second Floor Bristol, in Harvey Nichols was scuppered by my wife who decided no matter how nice the restaurant looked and how interesting the menu, she didn’t want to have a celebrationary dinner in an upmarket BHS or Primark! Anyway the Second Floor Bristol is a really stupid name for a restaurant. Okay so it’s on the second floor, I get that. It’s in Bristol, I get that. Why though is it named after where it is? Are they so confident about the food and the location, that they don’t think it needs a proper name? Well after my wife turned down this choice of mine, I needed to choose somewhere else.

So having to make a quick decision, I decided on La Tasca. My last few visits have been okay and I do like tapas. The end result wasn’t as good as I remember and certainly I don’t think we’ll go again. It wasn’t awful, it was just okay, nothing special and I do think that the restaurant could have done a lot better.

As it was a Sunday they had their Foolish Feast special, so we went with that. I chose that, partly to be cost effective, but in the main it was easy. I almost laughed at the photograph on the back of the menu, which appeared to be of an authentic Spanish tapas bar and thought, now that would be wonderful, however I knew that in reality the stuff we were going to get would be nice, but it wouldn’t be genuine in the way a proper Spanish tapas bar can be. I wonder why now, why we even went in there…

As we discussed the menu, we both realised that a Greek meze place would probably have been a much better choice, but it was late, we had sat down, we had ordered coffee. A bit too late to do anything then.

La Tasca

The special was £14.95 per person. You start off with the Tabla Especial – to share between two Serrano ham, bread and mixed olives, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & sherry vinegar dip.

Good ham, nice olives and measly amount of bread…. really you needed a bit more bread than you got.

The Paella Valenciana ‘La Tasca’ with chicken, Galician mussels, king prawns, squid, lemon wedges, char-grilled aubergine and peppers; could have been so good, but was let down because it was reheated. As a result the rice was stodgy, the squid was chewy, as were the mussels. I can appreciate that it can’t be easy to cook paella for these kinds of menus, however either do it properly or don’t do it all! Reheating paella is not how it is done in Spain. It kinds of puts me off going to La Tasca and ordering a “proper” paella in case that is a reheated dish. The flavour was okay, but the textures let this dish down.

We ordered one of everything and waited for it to arrive.

This is one dish which really you shouldn’t get wrong, it’s a really simple dish. Patatas Bravas is deep fried potato, with spicy tomato sauce. However they did a bit of a botch job. The potato wasn’t crispy enough and some of it was well undercooked too.

I did enjoy the Albóndigas, beef & pork meatballs, in a rich, slow-cooked tomato sauce. They had good texture, nice flavour and a good sauce. Well it was a good sauce until we worked out that it tasted like the tomato sauce in tinned spaghetti hoops!

I also enjoyed the Croquetas de Pollo. These were hand-crumbed with chicken breast and served with roasted garlic mayonnaise. They were crisp on the outside and lovely and soft on the inside. They melted in the mouth and had a really nice flavour.

The Spinach Tortilla, a spinach omelette served with a spicy red pepper tapenade and roasted garlic mayonnaise was okay, but I did feel it lacked flavour.

Apart from been a little too salty, the Pescado Blanco Frito which was deep-fried white fish, in a special-recipe San Miguel batter, served with homemade paprika & roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon. The batter was crisp and crunchy, but I did feel that the fish needed more natural flavour. You really needed to dip it in the mayonnaise.

As you might expect you couldn’t really mess up the Baby Leaf Green Salad, served with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil dressing on the side.

Overall there were some really nice dishes that we had at the table and alas there were some that really didn’t work out very well. I think it might be a while before I go to La Tasca again, I really do need to find a proper local Spanish tapas bar.

Lunch at La Tasca

I do like tapas, but haven’t eaten at La Tasca for a while. It’s a great place to go in a group, but unlike a few other places I could mention, it’s not a place I often go to when eating on my own or needing a quick place for lunch. However needing a quick lunch, I did notice walking by that La Tasca had a lunch deal on, two tapas dishes and bread (or salad) as an accompaniment for £5.95, that to me seemed quite reasonable. I had considered going to Jamie’s Italian which was close by, but they don’t appear to do a lunch menu and the main menu was a little expensive for a quick lunch.

PaellaFor my two dishes I went with Calamares Andaluza, crispy squid, served with a roasted garlic & paprika mayonnaise and Paella Valenciana, a paella with chicken breast and mixed seafood. Alongside I went with the bread, the Pan de Barra, freshly baked white baguette, olive bloomer and caramelised onion bread, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar dip.

Not sure how freshly baked the bread was, but though it may have been freshly baked at some point it didn’t feel that freshly baked to me. Probably because I have been spoilt by going to the Royal Well Tavern where the bread is so fresh that it is still warm when it arrives at the table! However it was nice to have three different kinds of bread and my favourite out of the three was the olive bloomer.

CalamaresThe calamares and paella arrived together. The calamares was nicely cooked, crisp batter and tender in the middle. The mayonnaise complemented the squid well. I enjoyed the calamares and was certainly one of the better dishes of squid I have had from La Tasca, so was impressed.

On previous visits to La Tasca, when I have had paella, usually as part of a special offer, tapas for a tenner, it wasn’t that special. I thought it was a bit of a risk taking the paella, but I thought why not. I was quite pleased though, it was very pleasant and certainly much better than previous paella I have had at La Tasca.

Overall, good service, nice food and value for money, just what I wanted for lunch.